The Russian method of classical ballet has a rich history embedded in czarist Russia. This method is an integration of the Danish; French and Italian schools further developed by Nicolai Legat in Russia. During the early Soviet times, Agrippina Vaganova, at the Leningrad Choreographic School began to develop and codify these existing elements into what is sometimes referred to as the Vaganova Method. This is a misnomer since it ignores other great master teachers of the Moscow School such as Nicolai Tarasov and Elizavetta Gerht who also added elements to what is known today as the Russian School.

The Russian Method, an eight-year program, uses French terminology in which steps are explained from their simplest form, for beginning level students, through the more complicated intermediate level form, to the most advanced and most complex forms. A numerical floor plan or diagram helps the students to orient themselves in space and to master poses, known as ´epaulement, in different angles and directions, which is important for the free interpretation of the material for the stage.

Emphasis is given to the training of the upper body and to the expressivity of the arms while developing the flexibility and strength of the legs. Exercises are introduced in a progression, which helps the students to understand the character of each step. In essence, the entire body is trained in a coordinated fashion from the fingertips to the toes. Teachers introduce original combinations with improvisational accompaniment, rather than teaching set, codified exercises to familiar classical music repertoire.

Students are accepted for training on the basis of their potential physical aptitude for dance, and are trained daily, learning at a very early age softness, expressivity, and fluidity of movement. This is accomplished through the use of the upper body, the study of poses and the six codified port de bras. The port de bras are taught in a logically coordinated and harmonious manner, from the simple to the more complicated forms. Later, in coordination with the head movements, the port de bras are included in more complex exercises allowing the dancers to freely and independently express themselves. In the study of poses it is stressed that each has it’s own expression which must remain consistent throughout the more difficult studies of adagio, tours and allegro work.

Musicality is important in the students’ development. Pianists are trained to understand how to express the character of each movement. They help form the fully developed artist: it is constantly emphasized that classical ballet is rooted in the expression of movement to must. The students study music beginning at an early age, continuing through the end of their schooling.

Another aspect of the Russian schooling is the study of the rich heritage found in the folkloric dances of the world, known as character dance. Historical Dance is studied in the elementary years and the final year, helping students develop poise and grace. In the final three years the study of partnering or pas de deux work is thoroughly covered.

The Russian system is not a dogma. Every generation has left its influence on the program: it is constantly evolving through reevaluation in light of developing ballet repertoire.

All certified teachers of the Russian Method are schooled in the system. The pursue further studies of the methodology enabling them to understand not only the physical and artistic aspects of the art form, but also the psychological development of the students into artist. Because of constant reevaluation the system continues to provide a united style to prepare future generations of students and teachers alike while continuing to develop a living, breathing syllabus.

School of Ballet and Dance Art • J. Erglis Smaltzoff • 7266 Sunset Boulevard • Hollywood, California, 90046 • (213) 850-9595 • (213) 851-1471 •
Miria Marken, Ballet Teacher and Choreographer for Men In Tutus

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